From time to time, one of the brigades in the Code for America network will develop a project that meets the needs of people outside of its home city. The project gets some press, is adopted in other cities, and takes off. Projects like the CutePets Twitterbot (born in Denver, adopted by Boston, and now deployed in 17 cities at last count), is a great example.
And now, Code for Boston has our own app that has gotten press coverage and taken off. Built this past February at our CodeAcross event, mbta.ninja was created by developers David Lago, Geoffrey Litt, and Radhika Malik, and serves as a way for people to crowdsource transit delays.
Since it’s launch, mbta.ninja has gained thousands of followers and grown in popularity by adding commuter rail lines. It is also now available on Google Play, making it Code for Boston’s first native app.
Last week, we learned that Quick180, a company working on shipping facilitation in Virginia, forked the code from mbta.ninja’s Github to create portninja.com, a tool for tracking real-time port updates and delays, in much the same way that T riders use mbta.ninja to avoid traffic or report on transit delays in Boston. This week, the Virginian-Pilot covered the soft launch of portninja.com and gave credit to Code for Boston’s mbta.ninja development team in an article titled, “Traffic? Let’s cut right through that.”
The app appealed to Ben Schoenfeld, a software engineer at Quick180 because it presented a real-time way for people – whether they’re truckers, shippers, or subway riders – to share information.
Mbta.ninja is proof that a good idea is not city-specific. Though originally built out of the frustration at the T’s response to Boston’s historically snowy winter, the app met a real need. Geoffrey Litt, one of the app’s original developers said, “We weren’t really expecting anyone besides our coworkers and friends to use the app at first.” But soon, Twitter found out about it and a city full of aggravated commuters found help with their slushy and frustrated commute. However, in many places, delays – transit, shipping, or otherwise – are common. And the idea behind mbta.ninja meets that need.
— Tim O'Reilly (@timoreilly) February 25, 2015
This is the goal of open source. Geoffrey Litt put it best when he wrote on his blog, “In a world where political systems are increasingly gridlocked every day, and much of Silicon Valley is focused on peddling ads, the civic innovation and open data movements are a bright and optimistic exception to the zeitgeist. When the noble goals and pervasive reach of governments combine with the freewheeling innovation of the tech world, I’m confident that amazing things can happen.”
So are we, which is why Code for Boston is especially proud of the spread of mbta.ninja. We’re glad it’s helping to alleviate shipping congestion in Virginia and can’t wait to see where it goes next.
Update: We’ve gone global! The app has also been adopted and redeployed in Poland as warszawski.ninja!